Obama, Civility and the Pittsburgh Steelers

OK. Second day on the elliptical trainer instead of the concrete. And it’s surprising how your world view changes when your legs are moving but you are basically standing still. Kind of like trying to change someone’s mind about a controversial topic: lots of action, little result.

I was musing over that this morning while watching for the 100th (at least) time news clips from Obama’s commencement address at Notre Dame Sunday. You know. The president of the university created a shitstorm when he invited the president of the United States to talk — given Obama’s position on abortion which (at best) is opposite that of the Catholic church and many of the Notre Dame alums and soon-to-be grads.

Obama certainly didn’t alter the game on the abortion issue here. Positions are too set — and in most cases too extreme. But Obama scored some points in the shadow of Touchdown Jesus by addressing the audience — in person and beyond — with a recognition that this is an issue where people are going to disagree and have strong views and opinions .  Still, it’s possible to treat people with civility.

Here’s from a column in The Washington Post by E.J. Dionne Jr:

Facing down protesters who didn’t want him at Notre Dame, President Obama fought back not with harsh words but with the most devastating weapons in his political arsenal: a call for “open hearts,” “open minds,” “fair-minded words” and a search for “common ground.

That sure doesn’t appear to describe the intellectual smackdown that we see nightly by the TV talking head pundits on the cable networks. And anyone with a sense of fairness and intellectual integrity has to despair these days by the comments that flood the newspaper, magazine, blog and other sites online. Pretty neat to have the ability to anonymously yell fire in the crowded cyberspace theater these days.

Here’s from Andrew Alexander, The Washington Post ombudsman, “Channeling Online Rage“:

The Post is correct to encourage anonymous commenting. It makes its Web site a vibrant town square. And it’s a way of increasing site traffic, a key to The Post’s survival as its audience shifts online.

But here’s the challenge: shaping these growing online conversations in a way that encourages civility without restricting speech.

The lack of civility — throughout our society but particularly evident in government and the news media — troubles me. We need to find some common ground on the big (and small) issues. And we are never going to do it without civility — and treating people, even those with differing opinions and views, with respect.

This gets me to the Pittsburgh Steelers. And this is a small matter, but it troubles me. The Steelers are scheduled to show up at the White House Thursday for a round of high-fives and photo ops with the Prez to recognize their Super Bowl win. Complete waste of time, granted. (Note: I’m a lifelong Steelers’ fan.) But it appears to be cemented in our national psyche that the Prez should take time from considering solutions to two wars, recession-level unemployment, Chrysler and GM going belly up, swine flu and so on to do these kind of things. That’s fine.

But here’s the rub. James Harrison — the pride of the Steel City, Kent State and Coventry Township in NE Ohio — ain’t going. He skipped a similar opportunity to glad hand with George W. a few years. So I guess it’s not a political statement.

And Harrison’s an adult. I guess he can do what he wants — although there are plenty of employees with businesses who do things they aren’t particularly thrilled about because they are expected to be part of the team. So this strikes me as being rude — and maybe civility has to start with the little things.

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